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Rescue is just the beginning of recovery for trapped miners, NASA says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Miners buried for 30 days and counting
  • NEW: A NASA team tells Chilean officials that there is a long recovery after being rescued
  • A four-person team from the space agency is advising the miners
  • They say organization and nutrition are important for trapped miners
  • Officials say it could take months to rescue the 33 miners trapped underground

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) -- The rescue of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean mine will only be the beginning of the miners' ordeal, NASA officials told Chilean authorities during a recent visit.

The advice was part of discussions that Chilean officials had with the American visitors about the miners who have been trapped for 33 days as of Tuesday. Currently, there are two different types of drills working in an effort to reach the miners.

Dr. Michael Duncan, the deputy chief medical officer at Johnson Space Center, said one of the biggest things to come from the discussions was the way the Chileans viewed the rescue process.

Originally, Duncan said, the Chileans viewed the extraction of the miners as the end of the rescue operations. The Americans suggested that given the delicate recovery and re-integration of the miners, the actual rescue was just but a step in a longer process.

For example, there is their re-introduction to their families and society, and the pressures they will feel from others and the media, he said.

They will have to cope with a certain level of celebrity status for having survived in the mine, he added.

"The work is just beginning when the miners get out of the mine," Duncan said.

NASA psychologist Al Holland, who was also a member of the U.S. delegation, said that the miners were in great spirits.

The fact that they had organized themselves into groups and established a hierarchy among themselves before being found in the mine was good for their mental well-being, he said.

"They need to form an underground community," he said.

Holland said he shared with the Chileans ideas about the importance of sleep and wake cycles and creating a systematic way of positioning lighting to that end.

The process is more a marathon than a sprint, he said, echoing Duncan's observations.

Video: Three plans for miners' rescue
Video: Dangerous mining in Chile
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The NASA officials talked with Chilean officials about splitting up the rescue operations into five stages: incident, survival, sustainment, rescue and recovery, said James Polk of NASA's space medicine division.

The team will remain in contact with rescuers going forward, though they haven't been invited yet to return for more consultations.

"My feeling is that they are doing really well in this rescue effort," said Clint Cragg, principal engineer at the NASA Engineering and Safety Center.

Also of concern was how to reintroduce men who were basically starving back to solid foods, Polk said.

When rescuers first found them, the miners told officials they had survived for more than 17 days by sharing a jar of peaches and small amounts of tuna and mackerel that were in their shelter below.

By last Thursday, their meals included bread with ham and turkey, wine cookies, stroganoff with pasta primavera, peaches in juice, nutritional supplements, bread with caramel spread, chicken in sauce and plantains.

The NASA team members are also helping design the system rescuers will eventually use to hoist the miners to the surface.

On Friday, a new drill arrived at the rescue scene that engineers hope could reach the miners in about two months.

Rescuers have started using that drill, normally used to bore water holes, but temporarily stopped after encountering a problem Monday. It had reached a depth of 404 feet (123 meters).

The Chilean government has said another drilling operation, which started a week ago and had reached a depth of around 370 feet (113 meters) by Tuesday, could take up to four months to reach the miners.

The miners are trapped at a depth of 2,300 feet.

Officials also announced a third plan on Sunday -- using an oil drill. Although that option could turn out to be the fastest, officials said, it may not be ready until late September.

All three plans can proceed simultaneously as they approach the mine from different directions.

In the meantime, Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich told CNN the miners have been assigned tasks underground.

The men have been divided into teams to manage the tubes that carry the supplies that are their lifeblood. One miner is in charge of setting the schedule of when they eat and sleep, another of nutritional matters and another of medical needs, he said.

Officials have asked them to simulate night and day on their own and to sleep in shifts -- half the men will sleep while the other half work and make sure their sleeping coworkers are okay, Manalich said.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.

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